Lithuanian Jews belong to Ashkenazim, i.e. to the Jews of Western, Central and Eastern Europe. The religious practice of Ashkenazim is somewhat different from customs and rituals of Sephardim, the Jews of Spain, South France and the Balkans. However, since the foundation of Jewish religious tradition is the Torah and the Talmud (the codex of Jewish religious laws created in the 3rd-5th centuries CE), differences between the two are less significant than similarities. Among Ashkenazim, Lithuanian Jews were renowned for their strong religious feelings, intellectual rationalism, and exceptional erudition. Lithuanian Jews also possessed a few characteristic features of religious and everyday life. All of that differed them from the others and they became known as litvaks. Another popular litvaks' name is mitnagheds which, translated from Hebrew, means "they, who do not agree". This name originates from 18th century when the Hasidic movement, related to mysticism, became widespread in Ukraine and Belarus. Mitnagheds resisted it, therefore in Lithuania the movement had very few followers. Litvaks are all Jews who resided in the territories of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In our times, due to the emigration of Lithuanian Jews and their high status, the litvak branch of Ashkenazy religious tradition spread all over the world (mainly in the USA, Israel, Argentina, South Africa).


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Jews in Lithuania, Vilnius, 1999-2000